Book of Days: Personal Essays. Emily Fox Gordon.

Gordon, Emily Fox. Book of Days: Personal Essays. Spiegel & Grau New York 2010. Memoir; 2/11.

I learned “personal essay” as the name of this genre, the extended version which is called  memoir. The author (whom I expected for some reason to be aristocratically dry and academic) is Jewish and bad-girl-nerdy, and takes us on a personally revealing trip through a difficult childhood, worse adolescence, troubled young adulthood, and a hostile marriage, all overshadowed by years and years of what sounds like psychoanalytic psychotherapy.

In the end, she becomes on paper the writer she’s always been in her mind, and everything turns out just fine. But on the way we get maybe a bit too much of her troubled inner life and neediness. There are also several places where it’s obvious that the book is cobbled together from independently published material. Each of the three times for example her favorite therapist appears we get an explanation of who he is. An editor should have straightened that out.

She talks about personal essays joined by bridges, but the book seems to finish as if one of the bridges has been washed away. There is a touching passage right at the end that would do for the final paragraph or two of a short story, but doesn’t make it as the last run at variations on a theme for an entire book. But she is a lovely writer, and somebody like me has to keep avoiding the self-reproach of “I wish I’d said that”, every time she pops an unexpectedly brilliant figurative flash. But again an editor should have erased her use of the same figure of speech a couple of times. Overall the content is a bit tough going in spots and I would say the editing was rushed, but the writing is pretty spectacular.

It’s a 7.1/8.6 split for me.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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